Mugabe threat as Zim crisis summit begins

Southern African leaders opened fresh talks on Monday to end Zimbabwe’s political crisis amid a new threat by Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe to form a government excluding his arch-rival from power.

Heads of state from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) are trying to salvage a power-sharing pact signed by Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai in September, one week after talks in Harare between the pair collapsed in acrimony.

Monday’s talks take place as the European Union slapped fresh sanctions on Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe, which is battling a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 2 800 people and infected more than 50 000.

As leaders arrived for the meeting, police broke up a nearby protest urging tougher action by SADC. An activist told Agence France-Presse that rubber bullets had been used to disperse about 600 people.

Earlier, Mugabe’s deputy information minister sought to pile pressure on Tsvangirai to accept a deal by saying the veteran president was ready to go it alone.

“This summit is the last summit that is going to discuss this issue of an inclusive government,” Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told public broadcaster SAfm.

“If it does not work today, definitely when the president comes back here [Harare], he has to form a new government with or without Morgan Tsvangirai.

“The way forward, soon after this summit, whether there is an agreement or there is no agreement, President Mugabe is going to form a Cabinet, 15 Cabinet ministers, eight deputy ministers of Zanu-PF,” Matonga added.

“He will obviously try to leave room for Tsvangirai so that whenever he changes his mind ... but that is not going to be for too long.”

Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, George Sibotshiwe, dismissed the minister’s comments as “nonsense”.

“We cannot comment on that statement for obvious reasons.
For us in the MDC what he said is nonsense,” he said.

Regional leaders are pushing for a unity government, agreed to four months ago, that leaves Mugabe as president and creates a new prime minister post for Tsvangirai.

But the pact has floundered over which party will control top public posts, including the Home Affairs Ministry, which oversees the police.

European Union foreign ministers on Monday tightened sanctions on Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe, putting European companies on the banned list for the first time, amid growing frustration about human rights and political abuses.

The widened sanctions bring the number of people on the list to more than 200.

The increased pressure came as SADC members—traditionally reluctant to condemn the worsening crisis—met for the fourth time to discuss Zimbabwe’s crisis since disputed elections last March.

Botswana President Ian Khama, one of Mugabe’s strongest critics among the African leaders, attended the summit. His government called on Sunday on the regional leaders to “go to the core” of the political deadlock.

March’s first-round presidential election, in which Tsvangirai placed first but did not win an outright majority, was followed by a brutal wave of political violence.

Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off, citing violence against his supporters, leaving Mugabe to declare a one-sided victory in June.

Since then Zimbabwe has plunged deeper into crisis amid massive unemployment and crippling hyperinflation, with half the population dependent on food aid.—AFP

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